THE GRACE LEE PROJECT (Grace Lee) Rating: NNN
Everyone knows someone named Grace Lee. It's the Asian equivalent of Jane Smith, but it comes with a lot more cultural assumptions.
That's what filmmaker Grace Lee finds out as she meets dozens of her namesakes and videotapes them in this entertaining and insightful documentary, part of the Reel Asian Film Festival.
Born to Korean immigrant parents in a small Missouri town, Lee grew up feeling unique as one of the few Asian families for miles. So she was shocked when she moved to L.A. and encountered not only a lot of Asians, but people who recognized her name. The Grace Lee that people remember (but for some reason haven't kept in touch with) is always the same: small, quiet, smart, nice.
So, with the help of a private detective, the filmmaker decides to meet some other Grace Lees and see if the stereotypes hold.
What she discovers is that most of them are straight, single college grads, the children of immigrants. Most have obviously been raised as Christians - there's even a subset of them called PKs, or "pastor's kids" - although a few were named Grace because their parents were obsessed with Grace Kelly.
Lee also meets a few iconoclasts. One feisty 88-year-old Grace Lee has devoted her life to activism for the Afro-American community in Detroit, while a 14-year-old overachiever in Silicon Valley has a dark artistic streak that helps her cope with the pressures of teen life.
The filmmaker is exhilarated to discover one Korean-American Grace Lee who moved to Seoul to become a lesbian activist, then let down when the subject requests that her image not be shown because it might bring shame on her American family.
Lee's chatty, ironic narration provides lots of wit. Best of all, she doesn't judge her subjects, resulting in a smart meditation on identity, femininity and cultural assumptions.
And of course one of the funniest gags comes at the end, with thank-yous to the various Grace Lees.
Saturday (November 26), Innis Town Hall.